Friday, January 30, 2015

Good Reads



I’m writing this for the three athletes/coaches who asked me one of my favorite questions, what should I read next or what are you reading?  It seemed like a good time for a post on what I’ve been reading, what I’ve learned and how I continually educate myself as a coach/athlete. 

Social Media:

In today’s digital world, the opportunities for reading/learning surround us constantly!  That said, there are opportunities for good reading and bad reading.  Social media has the power to connect you to brilliant thoughts that open up your mind to engaging questions, interesting research or provocative stories.  It can also connect you to a lot of garbage.  (and, yes, I’m shamelessly guilty of the kid picture overload and occasional pictures of a delicious beer!)  A lesson I took from following Gordo Byrn on Twitter was to be very selective in what you allow through your filter.  If your feed is full of sponsor plugs, pictures of food and weather complaints, you could probably use social media much more effectively!  You become what you surround yourself with.  And as one of my mentors and long time A.R.T. guy said to me (when I told him he was one of the best in the field): I just surround myself with people who are smarter than me, and then I listen. 

Such truth!

For me, I take another cue from Byrn and limited my “following” list to under 100 people.  Anything more than that becomes completely overwhelming which defeats the purpose of it in the first place.  You can take a look at my list of people I follow on Twitter – the majority provide content I find educational, engaging or just plain funny (also important, you need to laugh!).

Three of my “must follows” on Twitter (a list more for coaches than athletes):

-       Vern Gambetta
-       John O’Sullivan
-       Steve Magness

Those last three have been instrumental in my current (and future) reading list.  In the past year, they’ve tweeted their own reading lists which have opened up my bookshelves to a variety of fantastic reads on coaching, communication, philosophy and human behavior. 

Triathlon Specific:

Early on as a coach, I did was probably most coaches do – I read tons of “triathlon specific” books hoping to find the formula to producing top performing athletes!  All that I did was assemble a book of mostly disappointing reads that came across as too formulaic.  It was then that I realized coaching was an art that I had to refine through open-minded and at times messy experimentation driven by some of my own experience, education and influences. 

If I had to recommend one triathlon specific book that every coach should read it would be Matt Dixon’s The Well Built Athlete.  Dixon taps into what few books do – the peripheral factors (nutrition, recovery, etc) that encompass well-rounded and sustainable fitness.  If you can combine these factors in such a way that they resonate with the athlete, you are on their path to achieving top performance.  

Mentors:

Every coach/athlete should have an “inner circle” of mentors that they trust, respect and interact with casually enough that you can ask them any question or bounce ideas off of them.  For me, this circle consists of Jen Harrison and Kurt Perham, two former coaches who helped shape me as an athlete and coach – as well as a few other close friends/family/colleagues.

As far as outside sources that I would consider mentors by way of me reading what they put out and incorporating their work into my own coaching/training, some names come to mind (and I highly recommend any book/material/social media content put forth by these individuals):  Brett Sutton, Arthur Lydiard, Matt Dixon, Phil Maffetone, Vern Gambetta. 

When looking for mentors/inspiration, look to other sports.  Some of my biggest inspiration has come from the world of swimming!  One of my favorite publications is put out by ASCA.  Triathlon is still a very young sport so I’ve found it helpful to look to other sports as well – rugby, basketball, soccer, rowing.     

Book List:

To me, nothing beats a real book in my hands – turning the pages, the smell of ink, being able to write all over the margins.  Here are some of my favorites books along with the key takeaways from each.
 
Relentless by Tim Grover: Never has a book spoken to me in a language that I completely relate to as an athlete.  This book is the mindset of aggressive top performers.  It can come across as harsh but if you have the same spirit as the book, it will read like a conversation with a best friend or coach who wants to help you get the best out of you.

The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine: after my own struggles with hormones and fertility, this book was a fascinating read that put it all together – from birth to elder age in women, how hormones shape who we are and how our bodies behave.

Mindset by Carol Dweck: what’s the difference between a growth and fixed mindset? Dweck, a researcher, discusses the difference between static and developed intelligence and how to use a growth mindset for personal development/success.

Choke by Sian Beilock: why do some crumble under pressure while others thrive?  Beilock explores performance under pressure.  Her new book, How The Body Knows The Mind, is on my bookshelf waiting.

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle:  Coyle travels and interviews to explore how patterns of training, motivation and coaching can bring out “talent” in the most unassuming.  

Untethered Soul by Michael Singer:  a spiritual journey to explore your inner space, I walked away from this book with a life changing question: what part of me has a problem with the problem?  When I encounter “problems” in life, I now ask myself that question to reveal that often it’s the immature, insecure, impatient part of me that has the problem which means it really isn’t a problem at all.  It requires me to be a bigger person to accept it as part of my life/experience. 

The Vision of a Champion by Anson Dorrance:  what it means to succeed as an athlete and coach – how you put together a winning formula for training, coaching but more importantly communication by a legendary soccer coach.

To Chase A Dream by Paul Kapsalis & Ted Gregory:  a feel good story describing the painstaking and often defeating journey of pursuing a big dream.  Told in such an easy-going manner that I couldn’t put it down.

Top Dog by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman: the science of competition and winning – a must read for any athlete interested in how to fire up and arrive to compete at your best, as well as interesting gender-based research that I found useful to improve the competitive skills of women.

Elite Minds by Stan Beecham – a “sports psychology” book that talks about how to develop a world-class mind for competition by dealing with fear, pain and answering the very basic but profound question of, “who am I?”

Superbodies by Greg Wells – a physiology “cheat sheet” and excellent resource for any coach’s library as well as full of interesting research on how to achieve top performance.

Start with Why by Simon Sinek – a game changer for me as a business woman, this book proposed the simple question, “why?”  Most of us know what we do but don’t know why we do it.  This question provided a foundation for how to move forward with my business.

On Top of Your Game by Carrie Cheadle – another sports psychology book with practical but unique exercises to develop and improve the tools in your mental toolbox.

The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal – explores how willpower is not a virtue but a mind-body response that can be developed, the implications of stress/temptation and how you can improve your self-control. 

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – discusses how habits are formed and changed, fascinating research but also really digs into how deep-rooted our habits are, almost like addictions, and what works/doesn’t work in changing them.

Developing Resilience by Michael Neenan – resilience is an important trait for all athletes – the ability to bounce back when things don’t go as planned, how to do so, why it matters

Training Soccer Champions by Anson Dorrance – quick read & interesting resource with some good ideas on coaching women.

Burn Your Goals by Joshua Medcalf & Jamie Gilbert – “burn your goals, I want to see your commitment list instead” – for that quote alone, it’s worth the read, but fair warning – it’s a bit spiritual so if you can set that aside you’ll find value

Long Distance by Bill McKibben – a quick but powerful read on one man’s journey of a year training like an Olympic cross country ski champion.

Essentialism by Greg McKeown – a must read for anyone who feels overwhelmed – whether by life, choices or the inability to say no, this book boils is down to a simple question: is this essential?  Less is more is the overarching theme and how by doing less you make more progress. 
 
Stillpower by Garrett Kramer – a way of being that changed my life as a person and athlete; explores the idea that feelings come from your thinking – not your circumstances.  Overthinking, focusing and trying to fix yourself often causes the opposite of what you’re seeking.  Kramer imparted to me the importance of simply letting things pass and waiting for clarity.  Often when we are faced with obstacles we want to act or change paths – instead, this proposes to stay the path until we reach a clearer state of mind.

On my shelf to be read:  Spark by John Ratey, AntiFragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, How The Body Knows The Mind by Sian Beilock, The Championship Formula by Jack Stark, In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day by Mark Batterson, Ready to Run by Kelly Starrett & more!

Do you have any good reads, resources or follows you’ve come across?  I’d love to hear about them.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Testing


(written earlier this week) 

This week, I have two bike tests on my schedule.

Schedule a test, heck, say the word test to adults and some find the nearest corner to hide.  Testing means we are being evaluated, means we open ourselves up to being shown what we’re doing right but more importantly shown what we’re doing wrong or what we’re lacking.  Scary stuff.

At this time of year, testing is a starting point.  Guarantee that most of us are starting at points that we don’t necessarily like.  We’re a little slower, rustier and out of shape than we care to admit.  But you have to start somewhere.  We’ve all heard that what you measure you can improve.  Truth for an athlete.  Testing low is motivation to work harder.  Testing high is reassurance that you’re on the right path.  Progress, no matter how big or small, is proof that hard work pays off. 

Testing is the look in the mirror you need to make if you are going to improve.  Showing up and guessing at your paces, HR or power would be like showing up to class and telling the professor – I know the material, just give me a “A”.  Never happened for me.  Were any of you that lucky?  Tediously you had to sit through the lectures, learn the material class by class and then put it all together on test day. 

Yet many of us get scared by that look in the mirror.  We fear the test.  Some flat out refuse to do the test. The reason?  Insecurity.  Case in point: as I get older, I find I avoid mirrors more.  Especially ones lit by bright fluorescent lights.  Why?  The mirror reveals exactly what I feared was the case: pronounced lines and imperfections.  I am what I fear – getting older.  Easier not to look and accept.  No doubt many of us feel the same way about the scale. 

The truth hurts.  The same goes for what you learn from testing  Take it from someone who has faded in and out of various levels of fitness in the past 3 years.  Each time I’ve come back, the first test is that embarrassing look in the mirror that reveals the truth.   The first time I tested, 8 weeks after having Mackenzie, my threshold was my former half Ironman wattage.  In other words, the power I could hold for 20 minutes was once what I could hold for 2 ½ hours. 

Ouch.

Starting points, or let’s call them check points, however, never scare me.  If anything, they motivate me.  They provide the fire to get up, day after day, and follow the plan.  I would rather know the ugly truth than live by some fantasy of strength and confidence in my head.  I would rather quantify and accept the distance between where I am now and where I want to go.  I would rather know that on race day I am prepared to do “x” rather than show up hoping I can do “x”, falling short and being disappointed. 

Insecurity can keep us from doing the things that will actually make us get better.  These things start with being honest with ourselves.  You can bullshit yourself in a lot of ways.  You can bullshit yourself into thinking you can hold xxx watts.  But until you do that, you can’t.  Imagine if I had said to my coach “my threshold is xxx” when I tested after having Mackenzie.  I would have been thrown in a world of hurt, failure and falling short in workouts by using numbers that weren’t appropriate for me.  Physically I would have felt pain.  Psychologically, I would have had more proof that I wasn’t good enough, fast enough or that I would ever win again.

I can’t say that the tests ever get easier.  By I can say that I always look forward to them.  Because I want to know.  I want to look in the mirror and accept the reflection.  If I fall short on the test, I regroup and ask myself why.  Most of the time it’s pacing.  Or not wanting it badly enough.  Letting my mind wander.  I put together a plan for how I will nail it the next time.   If I nail the test, I look back at why (or how).  I take notes.  I set a new goal.

Some will read this and say – easy for you because you’re confident. 

I wasn’t always on the confidence train. 

When I tested a few months ago, I knew I had to not just gain watts but gain my confidence back.  It’s hard to feel confident about high goals when you’re starting at such a low point.  But I never doubted I could do the work to get there.  That’s all it takes – do the work, day after day.  But you have to accept the starting point – otherwise you have no idea of the work that needs to be done and have no business being upset with the outcome if you don’t get what you thought you were working for. 

One of my athletes told me they didn’t have the confidence to push a gear at xx rpms, 
yet.  I told them to stop waiting.  Confidence wouldn’t show up on the doorstep one day and say surprise, you’re ready!  I told them to be prepared to earn it one pedal stroke at a time.  Push that cadence for 5 minutes in one workout.  Congratulate yourself.  Try a little longer in the next workout.  That’s how you become confident.  If I could tell women anything, it would be to stop waiting for it.  Go earn it, with each painful step/stroke/pedal.  It will not magically appear.  It will not be effortless.  It will not be comfortable.

Tomorrow is my second test of the week.  This is the tough one.  Why?  Because I have over 11 years of tests to compare it to.  The only person I need to beat is my biggest competition: myself.  I know what I can do when I’m unfit and superfit.  I know what I did 8 weeks ago.  I know what I want to do.  I know what I need to do if I want to “win” again.  The “pressure” can feel stifling – if I let it. 

I’ll admit it: I’m a little nervous.  I’m going to eat my oatmeal breakfast and put down 16 ounces of fully leaded coffee.  But I know the rest will be all me.  Me pushing those pedals and chasing after a number.  I know where I need to start and know that about 10 minutes into it, I’m going to want OFF of that pain train (incidentally, to all the parents of preschoolers out there, I was thinking the other day – what if you were expecting the Pain Train and the Dinosaur Train pulled up instead? WHAT THEN?).  When it’s all said and done, I’ll have it ---- > the truth.

It might be good.  It might be ugly.  But I’m not the athlete I think I am until I prove that’s who I am through action. 

Especially in today’s world of social media bullshit smoke and mirrors hype --- it’s important to remember that what we think and what we say is nothing compared to what we can actually DO.  So, go and DO it.  Take the first steps.  Put yourself in motion.  Get close.  Fail.  Get up and try again.  The only thing that counts is action.  The only thing – I repeat, the ONLY thing – that builds confidence is what you actually do – not what you say you’re going to do, not the goals you set, not the number of likes you get, the number of “friends” you have, the team you’re on, the brands you wear, the comments you don’t get – it’s all you.  Doing it.  Earning it.  Facing it.  And building it day after day.

I’m ready to test tomorrow.  Another building block of confidence.  Another opportunity to see if who I am lines up with who I want to be.  And if not?  I’m going to get up the next day and continue to work for it.    

What about you?